In most HOA communities, the assessments are a personal liability to the homeowner. So while the HOA may lien the property, it will not stop aggressive HOA's from actually suing (usually small clams court -- it does depend on the amount that is owed, however), and then sending the judgment out to a collection agency. I am seeing, here in Northern California, HOA engaging in more aggressive enforcement tactics, in order to survive. Unless you are thinking about filing for bankruptcy, I'd pay the assessments in order to avoid the additional hassle of lawsuits and collections. My 2 cents.
Yes, the HOA can send a pre-lien letter and foreclose, just like a bank.
However, the HOA can also sue the homeowner directly without the lien, just like a collections lawsuit. That is usually because an HOA lien foreclosure can take up to one year:
In California, even though a house or condo which is part of an HOA is sold at foreclosure, the owner at the time of the assessments is still personally liable for the HOA dues covering the period of time that such person was the owner.
California Civil Code §1367.1(a) provides: "A regular or special assessment and any late charges, reasonable fees and costs of collection, reasonable attorney's fees, if any, and interest, if any, as determined in accordance with Section 1366, shall be a debt of the owner of the separate interest at the time the assessment or other sums are levied."
The subsequent buyer of a property is not personally liable for the delinquent assessments of prior owners, pursuant to California Civil Code §1466.
Frank W. Chen is licensed to practice law in the State of California. The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice. This posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author. For specific advice about your particular situation, consult your own attorney.